Press ombudsman slow, unfair - Cosatu

2012-01-20 12:05

Cape Town - The press ombudsman takes too long to make rulings and insists on an unfair requirement that complainants sign away their right to take further action through the courts, the Congress of the SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Friday.

In a submission to a commission holding public hearings on the regulation of print media, Cosatu said self regulation in the print media "sounds good in theory" but had not worked in practice.

Unconstitutional requirement

"The ombudsman is under-funded and under-staffed," it said.

"He takes too long to make rulings and insists on an unfair, and probably unconstitutional requirement, that anyone who lodges a complaint must sign away their right to take further action through the courts."

Cosatu said its comments on the media appeals tribunal (MAT) and "the numerous associated problems identified with the existing regulatory mechanisms" were constrained because its constitutional structures had not yet adopted a comprehensive response to the proposal to establish a MAT.

"The Cosatu central executive committee decided that it could not support a MAT until it was made clearer as to how it would be constituted and how the independence of similar bodies had been safeguarded in other countries."

Cosatu said there was a strong case motivating the introduction of more stringent regulatory mechanisms for the media with more independence and "more teeth".

Advertising revenue

The general dependence on commercial advertising revenue raised serious questions about the overall orientation and commercial bias of the print and online media.

The concept of "independence" would commonly be construed to mean free from bias and influence of the state, political parties, and economic interests.

"Against this background, the media cannot be described as strictly independent in every sense," Cosatu said.

The biggest concern with both the protection of state information bill and the MAT was that they could be misused to suppress the publication of matters of legitimate public concern and to protect those guilty of unethical or criminal acts.

It was therefore essential to strike the right balance between the right to publish potentially damaging but true allegations, and the right for individuals and organisations to be protected from false allegations.

  • bernpm - 2012-01-20 12:26

    "Against this background, the media cannot be described as strictly independent in every sense," Cosatu said. Cosatu is equally biased towards its paying members. We -the public- have no say in Cosatu allowing the many strikes, inconveniencing the public in many ways. What is wrong with the occasional biased line in the press about Cosatu?

  • Cracker - 2012-01-20 12:51

    Independence by the media is an unrealistic dream. The media does not have to be independent to fulfill its functions. Cosatu for example is also not independent. Why fabricate unrealistic requirements for others? Without commercial backing for the media we would not have the lively, vibrant and diverse media we are so lucky to experience. We do not need independence but honest and fearless reporting. Without the latter the media might as well close down. Objective reporting? The only really objective thing in this world is literally a rock - a "klip" or "rots." Objectivity is merely an excuse to force the media not to report against one. One also can never be sure exactly what is objective. Often it is a matter of in the eye of the beholder. But we can live with that matter of personal opinion. No need to impose it to fit a particular opinion of what objectivity should be. The bottom line is that we need honest reporting and that perfection will never be possible. If those is high place don't like the wind they must leave. They know the risks and responsibilities they take on when they climb the status ladder. At least Cosatu seems to have come to the plain truth that the regulators of the potential secrecy apparatus of the ANC may not be to Cosatu's liking.

      tamzien - 2012-01-20 14:46

      "We do not need independence but honest and fearless reporting" Huh? Not independent but honest and fair. That is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Agree the media can never be completely independent from both political and commercial interests. I just think the Saffas need to realise that the media is not completely impartial. Expecting the media to protect our personal freedom is like expected food restaurants to end world hunger!!! (Their only interested in as far as there is a buck to be made)

      Cracker - 2012-01-20 15:19

      @ tamzien Recall the following from the article: "Against this background, the media cannot be described as strictly INDEPENDENT in every sense," Cosatu said. That is the "independence" my comment referred to. Independent from commercial interests and political parties included in the sense I used the term in. To state it slightly more clearly, we need a FREE press which can decide for itself who and what it wishes to promote. You satisfied?

  • Gollum - 2012-01-20 13:03

    Having the media controlled by the government is simply another form of the information bill. Both would restrict what can be reported on and would simply be used by any government to choke access to info, stifle open discussion and control the public. The government already has means of seeking justice at its disposal. The ombudsman or courts are watchdogs but the ANC would prefer the media to be a lapdog

  • George - 2012-01-20 13:51

    So they think the Press ombudsman is slow, Try goverment, They once layed a charge against a snail for stalking them.

  • Nosiphom - 2012-01-20 14:51

    They are complaining that when you lay a complaint with the Ombud, you waive your right to tak the matter further. The thing is Cosatu, there is nothing stopping anyone going directly to the courts without using the Ombudsman. The office of the ombud is trying to protect its integrity. Suppose you take the matter to the ombuds office and you win, then you use that information in court to sue the newspaper (you score points using the ombuds office for free!). That is wht they are trying to avoid. If you want recourse through the ombud, then it means you do not want recourse through the courts!

      SarelJBotha - 2012-01-20 15:58

      I strongly disagree. The ombudsmen is a way to offer alternative solutions to the expensive things like court actions. It should never replace the law court system, or try to make themselves into little gods, by removing people rights to have the law take its course.

      Gollum - 2012-01-20 20:34

      @ Sarel The problem with your approach is that the Ombudsman would then become the 1st stop for media litigation and all cases would then be dragged through the courts by whichever party didn't get their desired outcome. This would render the ombudsman completely irrelevant. If you decide to take your case directly through the courts and aren't happy with the results, you can't then take it to the ombidsman.

  • Bongani - 2012-01-20 14:58

    It is like asking criminals to arrest each other, that will never happen. Press Ombuds is press people who are there to serve press needs. News papers will write a two page incorrect and damaging information and then write a small paragraph to apologize two weeks later. We all know that is not fair.

      Nosiphom - 2012-01-20 15:12

      You don't have to use the press ombud if you feel strongly that you have been wronged. You can go straight to court, the matter will drag on for years (like the Zuma vs Zapiro case) and you might still lose. Make your choice. Why do you want a governement run, also non0independent agency (MAT) to do your dirty work,pay a lawyer to do that!

  • Bongani - 2012-01-20 15:35

    Nosiphom. the reason people go to the Ombuds its mainly because of lake of funds and a need not to fight, but to try and solve something in a fair and smooth matter. How many SA people can take on banks, car dealers and many other organizations, then thats why Ombuds come in handy. you write in this forum as if you can afford a lawyer yourself

      Nosiphom - 2012-01-20 15:45

      I can't afford a lawyer, but then again as far as issues of the press are concerned, I do not need to as I am not worth writing about, and I make sure in all my dealings that I am not newsworthy, so I will probable never need the ombud anyway, neither will I need to sue any newspaper for defaming me - I am not famous anyway. If you have issues to hide thats your issue - get a laywere or start paying legalwise just in case you will need to try to sue a newspaper. And who is to say the MTA will be quick and fair ? Fair to who ? Or will it simple judge in favour of the complainant?

  • SarelJBotha - 2012-01-20 15:52

    The signing away of any rights should never be allowed.

      Nosiphom - 2012-01-20 16:01

      So you want to first test your chances of success with the ombud and then sue afterwards? You have the choice of sueing immediately without any dry run!

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